Cavs to Hire Player Development Guru Kenny Atkinson as New Head Coach: Report

The Cleveland Cavaliers have made a decision to hire former Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson as their new head coach, per a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of

Atkinson began his career in 2008, as an assistant for the New York Knicks, where he spent four seasons. From there, he spent another three seasons with the Atlanta Hawks as an assistant before landing his first head coaching job, leading the Brooklyn Nets for more than three seasons from 2016-2020, compiling a record of 118-190 in the regular season, 1-4 in the playoffs.

After being dismissed 62 games into the 2019-20 season, Atkinson went back to being an assistant for one season with the Los Angeles Clippers before his last three years serving under Steve Kerr with the Warriors.

How Does This Change the Cavaliers?

Although Atkinson’s career record as a head coach leaves a lot to be desired, he did lead the development of a Nets club that won 20, 28 and then 42 games over a 3-year span, earning Atkinson 5th in the 2018-19 Coach of the Year voting.

Notably, current Cavaliers players Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert improved considerably under Atkinson, which according to Wojnarowski, was a big factor in the coaching decision:

“Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman and GM Mike Gansey are especially eager for Atkinson’s reputable player development program to impact young center Evan Mobley, sources said.”

Roster Decisions to be Made

Atkinson inherits a solid club that finished 48-34 in 2023-24, including a playoff series win over the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference’s first round. There’s a lot of young talent on the team, with the top-7 players in terms of minutes played last season all under the age of 30.

With the NBA Draft looming, the Cavaliers need to address an issue with pairing two bigs in Mobley and Allen that don’t space the floor. They hold the No. 20 overall pick and could potentially draft a project to develop, but there’s more to the decision. The Donovan Mitchell/Darius Garland pairing is heading for a breakup, depending on who you’re listening to, which is a franchise-altering issue to be decided upon.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer suggests the Cavaliers trade Garland to address the floor-spacing wing need, while drafting a guard at No. 20 to pair with Mitchell. O’Connor names Bub Carrington, the freshman guard out of Pittsburgh as a potential fit, noting he is a “filthy midrange scorer who has a good handle, a tight crossover, and the athleticism to decelerate and then pull up with ease. He can make absurd shots, like gorgeous, stepback, off-balanced, contested fadeaways. Though he needs to extend his range to 3, he looks comfortable off the dribble, and it should be only a matter of time until his 3-point percentage improves.”

A Look Into the Crystal Ball

O’Connor is onto something. While Garland is an up-and-coming player — already making an All-Star team before Mitchell arrived — he’s not the best player on the team. He’s got a ton of value on the trade market at just 24 years old, especially for a team that needs a playmaker. The last time he was allowed to run the show on his own (2021-22), he put up averages of 21.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.3 steals with a shooting line of .462/.383/.892.

Mitchell has a player option in 2025-26, opening the door for him to walk away from the Cavaliers, just as LeBron James did years previous. The No. 1 priority has to be re-signing Mitchell first, because it will give the Cavaliers the ability to trade Garland. If Mitchell doesn’t commit, they’ll have to hold on Garland for fear of losing both guards in what would be a colossal screw-up for the front office.

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